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An allusion is a reference to a well-known person, place, event, literary work, or work

of art. Writers often use biblical and mythological allusions to which their readers are

familiar. In Moby Dick, Herman Melville frequently uses biblical and mythological allusions.

With these allusions the reader begins to understand the topic of discussion and is also

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exposed to the wisdom and knowledge Melville possess.

The first allusion appears in the first line of the novel. “Call me Ishmael.” Ishmael was

the biblical son of Abraham and his servant Hagar. He was disowned in favor of Isaac,

Abraham’s son with his wife Sarah. An angel prophesied to Hagar. “his hand shall be against

every man, and every man’s hand against him.” The name “Ishmael” has since become used

commonly for an outcast, which is appropriate since he is inexperienced when it comes to

whaling and is viewed as AN outcast to the other sailors upon the Pequod.

Another biblical allusion is of the prophet Elijah and Captain Ahab. Elijah WARNS

Queequeg and Ishmael of Ahab. Ishmael says he and Queequeg ARE boarding the Pequod

because they have just “signed the articles” and Elijah responds “Anything down there about

your souls. This conflict between Elijah and Ahab goes all the way back to the bible. I Kings

describes the conflict between King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Elijah tells Ahab that “in the

place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick they blood, even thine,” and that

“the dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezrell”. This allusion is significant for

foreshadowing the destruction of the Pequod. In Moby Dick the characters names are not so

different than names in the Bible and neither is the outcome of those characters so different.

Melville not only used a number of biblical allusions in Moby Dick, but he also used

many mythological allusions. He used Greek mythology in describing the tattooing on the

Queequeg. “The counterpane of the patchwork, full of odd little parti-colored squares and

triangles, and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a

figure”. The Cretan labyrinth was the maze, which imprisoned the half-bull, half-human

Minotaur. This adds immensely to the visual imagery of Queequeg. Being able to imagine this

large, black harpoon with a “Cretan labyrinth of a figure” the reader has a more appealing

and specific picture of him.

Another mythological allusion Melville used in Moby Dick is mentioned of the Fares.

Ishmael justifies his boarding the Pequod when he says, “I should now take it into my head

to go on a whaling voyage, this the invisible police officer at the Fates, who has constant

surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in some unaccountable way…”.

The Fates are the three goddess who control life and human destiny, Clotho spins the thread

of life, Lachisis determines its length, and Attropos cuts in off”. Melville creates a much more

intellectual statement than if he were to say, “I decided to go on a whaling voyage because I

felt like it”

There are many more allusions in Moby Dick. Melville effectively shows the reader his

intelligence. The allusions in Moby Dick are to commonly known people and conflicts. This

makes the novel easier for the reader to comprehend.

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